The Unbearable Beauty of Trees

The Unbearable Beauty of Trees

Why I photograph plants  

When I was in high school, my parents gave me a camera as a gift. I was so thrilled and experimented taking all sorts of pictures, fascinated by how the images were often different to what I saw: ugly backgrounds that my brain had eliminated appeared on the pictures without shame. But also detail that I had not necessarily seen popped up in images. In short, photography taught me to look closer and be more attentive. I also realised that light is magical in the way it enhances images (or flattens them). One can play with light, capture moods, feelings. Photography became a way of “seeing more” and being able to capture moods, sharing my experiences and hopefully creating something of value for others.  

Drink and Drive, Stop and Stare, Touch and Taste and Double Check  


Photo courtesy of Helga Burger , Poisonpod Albizia (pg. 84) 


How the book came into being 

Photographing plants came quite intuitively. I love plants: they are beautiful, they are fragrant, they are alive, they have texture and detail. So, I photographed plants to capture a fraction of their beauty, their diversity, their magic. Alongside photographing plants in nature, I read up about them and started the daunting task of identifying them. The pictures I took, helped me with that process. Steadily, photographing plants became my favourite past time. Often, this hobby took me into a “secret world” away from the realities of life. Magic.  

Over the years a substantial collection of pictures inhabited my laptop: image of the entire tree, flowers, herbs, fruit, leaves, thorns, bark and combinations there off. One day, my photographer /writer husband asked whether I wouldn’t like to do a book on Namibian trees. I was petrified, but he encouraged me, and finally convinced me: he was so instrumental in this new endeavour. He guided me, he came up with the structure of the book and the quirky headings. I basically only contributed my knowledge of the trees and the images.  

As we had travelled the North- East of Namibia most frequently for Pompie’s bird books, I knew the trees of those regions best and the new project led us to travel to the north of our county even more often than before as we tried to capture the essence of my favourite 56 trees of the North-East of Namibia, the space where trees are abundant and grow in forests. We tracked fine specimens of these wonderful growing mortals and captured their unique characteristics in photographs. However, we also visited “our” trees regularly, and made sure we knew how they responded to each season’s weather with its gifts and challenges alike.  


How the book works 

Trying to identify trees is daunting, to say the least. We did not want a book that expected our readers to have any previous knowledge of trees or tree identification. It should be a guide to see the beauty of trees, and if the need arose to assist the reader in identifying trees while being on a drive, holiday or having a picnic. Hence, we chose a beautiful image of a tree or part thereof, followed by pictures or silhouettes of the tree (how you could identify the tree while driving – Drink and Drive). If a tree struck you as fancy, we hoped that the reader would stop the driver immediately to have a closer look at the tree in question (Stop and Stare). I do not know how many people learn by just looking, I for sure want to touch, smell, and possibly taste. The heading (Touch and Taste) informs you what you might expect from the tree once you stopped. Having decided to rather finish your coffee or tea under the tree than in the car, you might see what the tree has to offer Down Under or by Double Check some of its attributes/features. A scientific approach to tree identification? Far from it. We hope it is a rather laid back, enjoyable and sensory experience.  


What was most fun 

Part of the journey was to photograph the detail of the trees: the bark, the fruit, and of course the flowers. Photographing flowers was probably my favourite aspect of our journeys. I realised; they struck a chord in me. The shear variety of colours, sizes, textures, fragrances, composition, intrinsic beauty, etc. etc. of flowers was enchanting and overwhelming, it was just so fascinating. I never could get enough of taking more pictures of the same species’ flowers, hardly ever was I satisfied that I really got the essence of a flower after a first round of taking pictures. So, I just wanted to do it again and again and again (ask Pompie, he will tell you his story of hunting photographs for the book). 

While I took pictures, he started to collect their fruit, which enclose the seeds. We brought home boxes full of fruit, labelled them and took pictures of them, and stored the boxes back in the garage again.  

Seeing More 

 Photo courtesy of Helga Burger , White Bauhinia (pg. 130) 



That might sound smart, to write a book to share my love of plants with people, but, at the same time, it is pretty limited in the bigger scheme of things. E. g. Namibia is home to about 4000 indigenous seed plants, of which about 15% are indigenous. Also, seed in boxes in our garage do not do justice to having taken them away from their regions, where they could have propagated and grown into trees for the next generation to enjoy.  

Wangari Maathai, one of our African female Nobel prize laureates (category: Peace), said "until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking."  

  Source : Wikimedia commons

Subsequently, a number of the collected fruit (and/or their seeds) found their way to the nurseries of the Gondwana Lodges. There, indigenous trees’ seeds are cultivated and cared for, growing to become trees to be planted locally to help support our local ecosystems. 

Photo courtesy of Sonia Noirfalise-Corsini plant specie hoodia  (left) &  Helga Burger (right) Water Berry Leaves (pg. 7) 


Together, we can all play our part in the conservation of these beautiful trees. I hope by using the book that you will be as enchanted by their beauty as I am . Enjoy and respect them on your next drive through the Zambezi region


                                               Written by: Helga Burger 


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